Tuesday, August 1, 2023

August 2023 science summary

Cardinal on blueberry cage


I'm behind on science reading again but still have three articles to share. Two are on wildlife migrations, and one is on bullshit (really)!

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Turpin et al 2021 finds that being able to produce satisfying and seemingly accurate bullshit ("communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth") seems correlated with real intelligence (albeit using weak proxies of a 10-item vocabulary test, and ratings of how others perceived their intelligence from writing samples). See Fig 1 for how they rated how convincing bullshit was. Interestingly people who scored better on the vocab test were slightly less willing to bullshit, and people more willing to bullshit were less able to distinguish bullshit from meaningful info. So a TL;DR could be that smarter people are less susceptible to bullshit, less willing to bullshit, but also better at bullshitting convincingly. Hat tip to Patrick Beary for sending this. And in case you're thinking this is a one-off joke, another paper on bullshit I reviewed ("On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit") has 597 citations!

Remember the 'lockdown' in the early days of COVID where people were asked to stay at home as much as possible, and traffic and even people walking around plummeted? Tucker et al. 2023 looks at how that impacted 43 species of mammals around the world. They found it varied a ton, but that in the short term (hour to hour) animals moved a bit less (presumably from less trying to avoid people). They found longer-term movement (10-day distance) only changed for coutnries with the strictest lockdowns like Italy and France, and Fig 3a makes it clear that while that change is significant it's dwarfed by the variation in effect. The findings on roads are not significant at the individual level and the effects they're reporting don't seem very compelling so I'm leaving those out. There's a Washington Post article about this paper here which includes some stories about some of the more adventurous animals: https://wapo.st/4660hHW

Young et al. 2023 monitored wildlife crossings along the Toowoomba Bypass in eastern Australia and found they were mostly used by non-native animals like feral cats, European redfoxes, and European hares (as well as dingoes). They also compared wildlife presence and density to adjacent bushland; only 61% of all the species they found were detected at crossings at all. The only difference they saw between viaducts, culverts, and underpasses was that swamp wallabies and hares both preferred the viaduct.


Tucker, M. A., Schipper, A. M., Adams, T. S. F., Attias, N., Avgar, T., Babic, N. L., Barker, K. J., Bastille-Rousseau, G., Behr, D. M., Belant, J. L., Beyer, D. E., Blaum, N., Blount, J. D., Bockmühl, D., Pires Boulhosa, R. L., Brown, M. B., Buuveibaatar, B., Cagnacci, F., Calabrese, J. M., … Mueller, T. (2023). Behavioral responses of terrestrial mammals to COVID-19 lockdowns. Science, 380(6649), 1059–1064. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abo6499

Turpin, M. H., Kara-Yakoubian, M., Walker, A. C., Walker, H. E. K., Fugelsang, J. A., & Stolz, J. A. (2021). Bullshit Ability as an Honest Signal of Intelligence. Evolutionary Psychology, 19(2), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/14747049211000317

Young, G., King, R., & Allen, B. L. (2023). Where do wildlife cross the road? Experimental evaluation reveals fauna preferences for multiple types of crossing structures. Global Ecology and Conservation, e02570. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2023.e02570

p.s. After the birds ate every single blueberry I grew last year, I built a cage this year w/ gaps big enough to let some pollinators in but keep birds out (until we harvested enough and let them have the last of them). They periodically would check for gaps, and twice robins managed to squeeze in and get stuck until I let them out. I'll improve the design next year.